IDIOT'S DELIGHT 03
The characters here are under copyright (c) by Lois MacMasters Bujold and are taken from her many Vorkosigan novels.
The story is my own invention. It and all other elements not borrowed from Ms. Bujold are copyright (c) 2005 by Khasidi Katugraha
Sorry to have been so long getting this chapter out. Actually, it is just the first half of Chapter 4. I have the rest of it about half written and will get it up as soon as possible. I didn't want to wait so long that you all forgot about the story, though.
This is the first story I have written and I would love to get some feedback, especially if you are already a fan of the Vorkosigan series. If you have criticisms, I would also like to read those. Mostly, I just want to know if anyone is reading this.
There was a knock on the door. It was late. Well, it was actually past late and had moved on into early, though the sun was not yet up. In one of the back bedrooms, a little boy with blond hair and a worried expression suddenly smiled in his sleep, rolled over and put his thumb in his mouth. His breathing deepened as he snuggled up next to his brother and sank deeper into sleep. The knock was repeated. In the other bedroom, Ethan Urquhart rolled grumpily out of bed and rubbed his eyes. "What the hell?" he muttered, grabbing his bathrobe. The knock was repeated a third time. "Yeah, yeah. I'm coming."
Who on earth could it be at this time of the—Ethan looked at the clock on the bedside table—morning? He had been up late with the kids. Phil had been whiney and hadn't been willing to settle down. That had become a routine with Phil recently. He had discovered whining as a method of getting attention. But it was Vic whom Ethan was more worried about. Vic didn't complain very much, but he could go into a frightening withdrawal, eyes wide and vacant. Unfortunately, it tended to happen when Ethan himself was at his own most upset and worried. It made it almost impossible for Ethan to comfort the boy. It was odd because Vic was imperturbable about the normal calamities of childhood. Skinned knees and stubbed toes or disappointments about presents or being asked to eat food that he didn't like, all those things passed through his emotional weather without a ripple; but he was incredibly sensitive to the emotional states of those around him. When Terrence had left, the boy had sat in shocky silence for days. Finally, Ethan had realized that it was his own emotions that were causing the problem. He had asked Janos if he could baby-sit for several evenings and stayed at the office just so Vic would be able to get some rest.
Ethan's life, which had seemed to him to finally be on some sort of track after he had gotten back home from Kline Station and Beta Colony with the new ovarian cultures several years before, bringing Terrence with him, had run right off the rails in the last 7 months. Terrence had disapeared with three uterine replicators and all hell had been let loose. At first Terrence had been wanted for simple theft. Uterine replicators were expensive and had to be imported from off-planet. Athosians, with their deep seated fear of cultural contamination from planets which had not been cleansed of women (Ethan was proud that he no longer hesitated to say the word) had a difficulty scraping together enough foreign exchange to make such necessary puchases so the theft of three of them had been greater than might otherwise have been expected. Ethan had figured out almost immediately why Terrence had stolen them. He wanted to raise girls. Ethan had had to acknowlege that, in spite of his patience, the sexual aspect of his relationship with Terrence was mostly a matter of kindness and physical release on his partner's side. Terrence had been in love with a woman, a telepath like himself, called Janine, or J 9 X Ceta-G as their creators had called her. She had been killed, murdered, actually, before Ethan and Terrence had met, yet Terrence's love for her was still the dominant force in his life. Ethan felt that it was almost as if Janine's ghost lived with them, invisible to everyone but Terrence but still a palpable presence permeating their lives.
When Ethan and Terrence had come back to Athos, they had brought new female genetic material in the form of ovarian cultures to renew the stock needed to create new children on Athos. some of that material had come from Janine, preserved at subzero tempetature. Ethan had been fairly certain when Terrence disapeared that his purpose was to create girl children in his dead wife's image. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one who had come to that conclusion. Terrence was wanted officially only for theft, but recently a rumor had circulated, God knew where it had originated, that girl children were being "cooked up" somewhere out in the islands. In a culture in which even the word "woman" was not commonly uttered except in the darkness of midwinter's night, the situation could rapidly become explosive.
Ethan shambled through the kitchen and out to the front door. He didn't used to keep the door locked, but since all the trouble, he just couldn't be sure. A lot of people were frightened and, he had to admit, the circumstances made him look guilty just by association. The knock was repeated. "God the father! I'm coming, I'm coming."
Ethan cracked the door but left the chain on and peered out. "Terrence! What the. . . "Come in, come in. God, did anybody see you? Quick! Do you have any luggage or anything?"
"No, no, it's just me. I didn't bring anything." Terrence slipped in and bolted the door behind him. He was slightly shorter than Ethan, sparely built and very thin. In fact, Ethan thought, he looked even thinner. The tendons on his rather elegant hands stood out. "I thought you would never get to the door!" He said. "I'm sorry I didn't call first, but I couldn't risk it. I don't think anyone saw me."
"Terrence, damn, Terrence where have you. . .Oh damn! I swore I was going to. . ." Ethan grabbed Terrence in a bone-crushing hug. He had sworn he was going to strangle Terrence if he ever saw him again, but now that he had the chance he couldn't seem to let go of Terrence long enough to get his fingers around his throat. "Oh God, Terrence, what have you done? I've been so frightened!"
The smaller man stood limply in the embrace. Evidently he was only tolerating this outpouring of emotion. Ethan ran down abruptly, "Well, ah, come into the kitchen. Away from the street windows. You'd better tell me what is happening."
He released his friend and followed him into the kitchen. Terrence settled wearily into one of the chairs at the kitchen table while Ethan stirred around filling the kettle and poking up the fire in the stove. "You want anything? Tea?"
"No. . .well, okay, yeah, tea. Sounds good." Terrence responded listlessly.
"So, what's going on?" Ethan asked, setting up cups and saucers and trying to prevent himself from reacting. Wait, just wait, he told himself. He set the cups on the table, one for Terrence and one for. . .The cup he had intended for his own place seemed to jump out of his hand of its own volition. It crashed to the floor. "Damnation!" he exclaimed looking stupidly at the mess. Tears suddenly overflowed his eyelids and he turned blindly to find a dustpan and broom.
Terrence took the dustpan from him, "Here," he said and held it while he swept up the shattered cup.
Tears were beginning to run out Ethan's nose and he snuffed them back up and sat down on the floor, leaning his back against the leg of the table. "I'm sorry," he muttered. "I'm not handling this very well."
"You're not handling it well? What about me?" Terrence, suddenly energized, began to stride around the kitchen waving his hands in the air. "I walk out on you with no warning, leaving you with two kids and an unholy mess of a political situation, and now I'm back because. . .because. . . damn Ethan, I've got most of the military force on this planet after me and I have three babies that are about to be born and. . .Oh shit!" Terrence seemed to run out of steam as quickly as he had started up. "I just didn't think it out," he said, almost in a whisper. "It was one thing to be on the run back at Kline Station when there was just me to worry about. I didn't have anything to lose. God knows, I didn't care at that point whether I lived or died. But now I have created three babies and I am responsible, no one else! And, look at me, I have no right to do this! I walked out on you. I haven't even kept faith with Vic and Phil!" Terrence looked down at Ethan's tear-stained face and abruptly sat down on the floor a little way from him, taking up position against the other table leg. He looked away from Ethan and continued, fighting the tension in his voice so he could keep going.
"The thing is that I have no choice. It doesn't matter whether I am worthy or not. It doesn't even matter if I can't do this, somehow I have to. They are about to be born and I have to somehow take care of them."
Ethan turned his head so that he could see Terrence who was still facing away. "They're. . . girls, aren't they?"
"Yeah, they are. Three girls." He struck his forehead with his closed fist. "What was I thinking?" I even have names picked out. Lucy, Jenny, and Polly.
"I suppose you were thinking abou. . ." something in Ethan's throat seemed to be preventing him from speaking and the stupid tears were blinding him. He drew his forearm across his eyes, ". . .about Janine."
"Yeah." Terrence responded in an empty voice. "Yeah, I was. And how stupid was that? She's dead. She's DEAD! What did I think, that having little girls was going to make her come back? I mean, how stupid could I BE? These babies aren't Janine. They're going to be three little kids who will want to be their own selves, not someone their dad broke his heart over before they were even born!"
Terrence paused, then sniffed in air violently through his nose "And. . .and you, Ethan. . .wh-what have I been doing to you? All I've brought is trouble and m-more trouble. Y-you deserve so much more than me and I'm such a, such a mess." Terrence held his body rigidly upright and stared fixedly at something, perhaps a spot on the floor. "But, Ethan, . . .I have to ask you, because I have no one else, and there are three babies coming, and, and. . .and I can't do it by myself."
This is worse than physical pain, Ethan thought. I can't do this. I can't support this by myself. I have always been sensible, I have always been there with a plan, but I can't do this, it hurts too much. There are times when good sense can't take you were you need to go. You come to some sort of abyss and there is nothing to do but jump. "Terrence," he said, "You are the one who is supposed to be able to read minds. Don't you know? You are my heart. Please, please just. . .Just. Come. Here."
A few minutes later Terrence snuffed back his own tears. "Ouch, my leg is trapped." He giggled blearily. "Do you think maybe we could do this better on the bed?"
A little later, as the sun rose, the little blond haired boy opened his eyes to the half-light. He turned to his brother, sleeping in the bed beside him and grabbed his arm. "Wake up! Wake up, Phil!" and shook him.
You had to be careful waking Phil because he woke up hard. Once he was fully wakened, he was a cheerful little boy, but he had been known to hit or even bite during the transition period when he was still half-asleep. In the event, Phil neither hit nor bit this time, he merely made an irritated noise, rolled over and plunged back into sleep so Vic grabbed Phil's pajama top in his small fists. "Wake UP, Phil!" he yelled, shaking him with violent affection.
Vic and Phil were exactly the same age and came from the same ovarian stock, EQ-1-Ceta-B, but Terrence was Vic's father and Ethan was Phil's.They both had the same build: long limbs, and deceptively fragile grace, but they were both really very tough for their age. However, where Vic was blond and freckled, Phil was dark haired and dark eyed with white skin. In spite of his blond hair and freckled skin, Vic's eyes were dark. Both boys had long dark eyelashes that contrasted startlingly with their fair skin. "Tadeh is home, Phil!"
Phil's eyes popped open and he sat up looking blearily around and promptly shut his eyes again and fell back against his pillow. Vic was used to this, "Will you wake up?" he shook his brother again. "PHIL, WAKE UP!"
Again Phil opened his eyes but instantly squeezed them shut again. He drew in a breath and let out a long whimper that gradually built in volume until it was a full-fledged wail. This was standard morning behavior and Vic paid no attention. Phil liked to cry in the morning. If he could really work himself up, he knew that Bap would come in and carry him around for a while to quiet him down and he liked that. Phil paused to draw a deep breath so that he could give full vent to his feelings.
Vic took advantage of Phil's need to breath, "Phil! Tadeh is here!" he interjected.
At his brother's news Phil shut his mouth mid-cry and let out a hiccup. Then he leapt out of bed. "Tadeh! Tadeh!" He yelled; and the two little boys raced from their bedroom.
When Phil's wail started Ethan pricked up his ears. "There's Phil. After you left he developed the habit of crying in the morning. They only thing I could do to settle him down was to carry him around. At first he did it because you left, now I think he just likes being carried. I suppose I should try to break him of the habit, but the little sucker has more willpower than I do. I am trying to let him cry for a bit before I go in. I am hoping that he will eventually get bored and quit. He hasn't yet, though. Actually, I worry more about Vic. He hasn't been any trouble at all but that's what worries me. In the first days after you left, he would just hide out in his special corner whenever I was upset -- which was quite a lot. I would find him sitting there shaking, with big tears running down his cheeks. It would break my heart, but I couldn't do anything for him until I calmed down. He always knows."
"They're on their way in, now" Terrence observed.
Ethan glanced at him. And, indeed, a moment later two solid little four-year-old bodies landed on Terrence's stomach with cries of "Tadeh! Tadeh!" and for a few minutes pandemonium reigned.
When it eventually it quieted down, Vic asked, "Tadeh, where are those little children?"
"What little children, sweetheart?" asked Ethan, looking at Terrence.
"Those little children that Tadeh is going to get, Bap! You know, little baby ones! They go pee in their pants," he added. "Me and Phil don't. We use the potty!"
"Yup," Ethan responded, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, "You sure do! You guys are big! And speaking of peeing in the potty, that's what I gotta do." As he marched into the bathroom, followed by the boys and then Terrence, Ethan was overcome with a moment of panic. God the Father! Three baby girls! Okay, he said to himself, one step at a time. Right now, these guys needed to eat.
Ethan had a chance to think while he fried fish and mixed up a batch of cornbread for breakfast. He looked around the kitchen with a feeling of sadness as he realized that he was going to have to give up this cozy domesticity. Terrence had only sketched out the situation for him, but it didn't look good. He had not gone off to one of the myriad small islands and atolls that dotted the Athosian seas as the police had surmised; instead, he had moved down around the southern end of the South Province penninsula not so far from Terrence's fathers' commune, to a bit of deserted coast that Ethan and Janos had discovered years ago. This hideout was surrounded by mountains and high cliffs. It was only accessible by air or sea unless you were a mountain goat. Ethan had never thought the time would come when he would be thankful for the low level of technological development on Athos that made the everyday use of light flyers and other sorts of air transport relatively rare. On Athos, the majority of transport for goods and people was by sea, and often under sail. Terrence's hideout was as good as any place could be on Athos. But, God's heaven! They had to move quickly. Ethan himself had been under a great deal of scrutiny since Terrence's disappearance eight months before and it was only the fact that he had not changed his lifestyle at all that had finally convinced the authorities that he knew nothing about Terrence's disappearance. Thank God they had not figured out what he was going to use them for! Still, Ethan thought gloomily, Vic had already picked up on the fact that there were three babies due and it wouldn't be long before he figured out that they were girls. Good Lord, at his age, Ethan hadn't even known what a girl was! But, though Vic's organ of telepathy was by no means developed, it was astonishing the things he picked up. At this stage in his maturing process it was mostly the emotional states of others, but sometimes he seemed also to pick up images. Terrence said that he wouldn't be able to use his telepathic gift on a Paraverbal level until adolescence. Still, for a four-year-old, he knew a lot and what he knew, Phil would know, too. Ethan made an abrupt decision. "Well, guys, no brockhouse for you today. You're going to stay home with Terrence and me and help get ready. We are going on a trip."
Ethan looked up from the kids. Terrence nodded. "But first you gotta get dressed. Can you two do it by yourselves? Don't forget to put on clean undies. Put the old ones in the hamper, `kay?"
Phil started to whine, "I want you to help me. . ."
"Phil, you can do this by yourself. I need to talk to Tadeh."
"C'mon Phil," Vic interjected, "We gotta get dressed. We're going on the Orestes with Uncle Janos to the see the children!"
Phil immediately brightened and, forgetting about the proposed tantrum, scampered off with Vic. "The Orestes! Yahoo! What children?"
Ethan turned to Terrence, "Janos? Is he involved?" Terrence looked distressed and Ethan added, "Well, of course he is. I can't believe I didn't figure that out already. How else would you get around. How'd you get him to do it?"
"It wasn't that hard, really. Janos has always had, um, a bit of a crush on me. It's nothing serious, he just sees me as exotic. To him I am someone from the outer reaches of the wormhole nexus and he longs for wider vistas. If he ever gets out there, he is going to be so astonished when he learns that everyone else views his culture as strange and exotic! Anyway, it wasn't difficult to involve him in my scheme. I haven't told him yet that the babies are girls or that they carry the telepathy gene complex. He's got the Orestes moored out at Vegling Island and is waiting for a radio call letting him know where he and I and maybe you and the boys will rendezvous."
"So he's known where you were for eight months and didn't tell me? That son of a. . . I'm going to kill him." Ethan paused. "Aw, hell, let it go. We are going to need supplies. Camping stuff, food, tools, and, Good Lord! We are going to have to bring all the stuff for three babies! Diapers, formula. . .damn, I suppose with three we are both going to need to be lactating. It'll have to be hormonally induced. Neither of us has the time nor the energy to go through the rite and, anyway, you aren't an initiate. Exactly when are they due? How much time to we have?"
"Just about exactly a month."
"Cripes, Not much time, but we can stretch it if we have to," said Ethan. "Listen, can you stay here with the kids? I think I better try to keep up appearances and show up at the clinic. Today, at least. I hate to leave so abruptly, but maybe I can get things in order so that my assistant won't have too hard a time filling in. Besides, I need to collect a medical kit and a few piles of cloth diapers. We're going to have to wash them ourselves. I don't think we can rely on disposables. Oh crap, then there's laundry stuff! We're going to need to bring some kind of tubÉ" Ethan was momentarily overwhelmed by the mountainous task ahead of them. But he had been raised on the frontier. His fathers had raised six boys without any conveniences so he knew it could be done. I've been getting soft, living in the city, he said to himself and stood up to get ready for the day.
Terrence sat looking guilty and depressed. "I've been nothing but trouble to you since the day we met. No! Since before the day we met. Why do you put up with me?"
Ethan looked down at the younger man. He had become a doctor because the need to heal, to foster life was central to his being. It was central to his identity to want to make things better. And he was lonely. When he had first met Terrence, he hadn't known that he was a wounded man; but Terrence's beauty, his distress, and his need had touched Ethan so deeply he had given away his heart evern before he knew that he was in danger. But he had hardly understood his own need for healing. The wound was still there. "Terrence, you know why I put up with you. I couldn't hide it from you if I wanted to. I love you. I can't even help it. You are my life, you and the boys. I don't really know how you feel about me. I can't look into you and know like you can. But that isn't the issue. Right now, there are three babies and they need us. They are more important than your life, or mine. You set this in motion and, whether I am willing to put up with you or not, is irrelevant. These children are your responsibility." Ethan gazed at the young man suffering in the kitchen chair before him. Had their lovemaking this morning meant anything at all? Terrence seemed so lost in his own pain and nothing Ethan could do seemed to really touch him. "But, if it is companionship you need, I can give you this much. You aren't doing this alone. You asked me for my help and I am saying yes. Yes. I will help you raise these children and I will love them with you even though God the father punishes me for bringing females to Athos. So I am taking this on. `Your burdens shall be my burdens.'"
Ethan wondered if Terrence recognized the words from the rite of partnership. Well, no matter. . . "Okay," he said, giving himself a little shake, "You have two little hellions to deal with today and I have to get going or I'll be late." Ethan headed toward the door.
Terrence lifted his head. "Ethan. . ." he said.
Ethan paused, his hand on the door handle.
"Thank you. I. . .I know I haven't given you what you want. I don't know if I can. When Janine died, maybe that part of me that can love died, too. I don't know. I have done a wicked thing. I made babies without the ability to care for them or maybe even love them. I thought. . .I really don't really know what I thought. When Janine and the children died, that part of me that was good died and I can't feel it anymore. I can't feel what good is. Do you understand?" Terrence's eyes were wide but he didn't seem to be seeing anything with them. "Ethan, you are still alive. You are alive like Janine was and I want. . .I want to be alive again, I want to be alive with you; but I don't know how. Please, Ethan, please don't let me go away. . ."
In two steps Ethan was back. He tried to lift Terrence in his arms like a child but he was too heavy so he ended up kneeling on the floor with his arms around his chest. He gave a tug and Terrence half fell into his lap. He held him tightly. "You aren't going anywhere, sweetie," he said, "Nowhere that I don't go with you."
In the door two little heads appeared, one blonde and one dark. "Bap? What's wrong with Tadeh?"
Vic turned to his brother. "Nothing's wrong. Tadeh's eyes hurt him and Bap is teaching him how to cry."